Blast kills high-ranking officer, five others in Beirut

( dpa ) - A powerful bomb targeting a police convoy killed at least six people and wounded more than 20 in a Christian area of the Lebanese capital Beirut on Friday in what police at the scene said was suspected as a revenge attack.

"Captain Wissam Eid, his bodyguard and four other people," latest police reports said, changing previous accounts of 10 killed.

"The confusion was because several bodies were badly burned and taken to hospital in critical conditions and they were counted before as dead," a police officer at the scene said.

The bomb went off during rush hour in the Christian Hazmieh district of the capital. The dead included Eid, a high-ranking police captain in the security service and head of the technical department.

"Wissam Eid was the target ... and innocent civilians also," the head of the military police Anwar Yehia told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa on the scene.

"This is an act of revenge, Eid was also the target of an assassination attempt in February 2006 when a hand grenade exploded at the doorstep of his house," a police source at the scene told dpa.

Police chief Ashraf Rifi identified the dead officer as Captain Wissam Eid, whose vehicle was caught in the blast as he was on his way to work. A bodyguard was also killed.

"This is a message to the Internal Security Forces following the message sent to the army in December when General Francis el-Hajj was killed in a car bomb," Rifi told reporters. "This will not deter us from our mission to protect the country and ensure security."

Friday's explosion took place shortly after 10 am (0800 GMT) in an area of office buildings and parking lots on a highway leading out of Beirut

Police could be seen gathering body parts near the crater while within a 500-metre radius most of the windows of buildings and houses were blown out.

Red Cross volunteers at the scene said at least nine people were treated for slight injuries at the scene and 11 others were transferred to hospitals some suffering from serious wounds.

Eid worked for an intelligence unit which is widely viewed as close to anti-Syrian ruling coalition leader Saad al-Hariri.

"Eid had a role in all the files linked to terrorist bombings," the police chief told reporters at the scene.

Eid took up his post after his predecessor Samir Shehadeh was wounded by a roadside bomb south of Beirut in 2006.

Eid was also wounded in the battles that pitted the Lebanese army against the Sunni fundamentalist group Fatah al-Islam in northern Lebanon last year. He was also involved in the investigation into the February 2005 bombing that killed former premier Rafik Hariri.

"This is a massacre ... I saw human flesh flying in the air," a shop owner near the area said.

"Flames engulfed cars, trapping several people as firefighters battled to extinguish the fires and security forces cordoned off the area," he added.

Thick black smoke curled into the sky as ambulances rushed to the scene, an area of office buildings and parking lots on a highway leading out of Beirut.

Lebanon has seen a series of car bomb attacks since 2005, including the one that killed Hariri. The majority of victims were anti-Syrian politicians and journalists.

Tensions in the country are high because of a political dispute over electing a new president.

Three people died in the past week when a bomb targeting a US embassy vehicle went off.

In December, General Francois al-Hajj was killed in an attack. Al- Hajj had been tipped to replace Army Chief General Michel Suleiman, the compromise candidate for the presidency.

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